Laughter is the best Music

Do it again, it was so funny / Felix McGlennon. New York, Frank Tousey's Pub. House, 1895.

Do it again, it was so funny / Felix McGlennon. New York, Frank Tousey's Pub. House, 1895.

“Hardly had the first song been composed before someone invented singing it out of tune. ” — Victor Borge, My Favorite Comedies in Music

This April Fool’s Day, before asking your chum if she’d like to hear your musical henway,  read  what Leonard Bernstein said about Humor in Music in a script for one of his  Young People’s Concerts, a series of television broadcasts Bernstein led from 1958-1972.  Bernstein’s survey ranges from the verse of Alice in Wonderland, to  taxi-horns in Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” to the musical sneeze that opens Kodály’s Háry János Suite.  See more scripts from the Young People’s Concerts, in both typescript and hand-written drafts, in the Leonard Bernstein Collection in American Memory.

The Recorded Sound Reference center has a curious recording by musical comedian Victor Borge. Among the broadcasts in the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) collection is  Borge’s 1942 Christmas greeting to his native Denmark.  Borge died in Connecticut in 2000, and you can read the transcript of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman’s subsequent tribute to Borge on the Senate floor in the Congressional Record, found on THOMAS, the Library’s font of legislative information.

The Music Division’s holdings provide a lifetime of knee-slapping fodder for the student of humor in music, including the collections of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,  Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine, and P.G. Wodehouse.  See also the web exhibit Bob Hope and American Variety and the American Memory presentation American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment 1870-1920.

And now to close with another quote from Victor Borge’s  My Favorite Comedies in Music. Written with Robert Sherman, the book is a fine textual counterpart to Borge’s stage antics, with generous use of footnotes (was David Foster Wallace a fan?) as punch-lines:

“Like all conductors, naturally, I’ve had to study the different instruments. [1]


[1] It can be terribly embarrassing to stand there scowling at the piccolos when the snare drums make a mistake.”

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